How I Read Portuguese After Just One Week Of Study

I recently wrote a post outlining my practical hacking Portuguese plan.

It really is very practical, because it includes some of the programs and instructional materials I am using.

To this point I have been pretty lazy, but still have been picking up some Portuguese.

A couple weeks ago I was Facebook messaging (i.e. not chatting) with a Brazilian girl, who was writing me in Portuguese, and I found I could understand completely everything that she wrote.

This was after only one week of study with Pimsleur, doing some organic vocabulary (writing down words I wanted to know), inferring from context, and NOTHING ELSE.

I’m not talking about having a general idea or missing a few words. I literally could understand everything she wrote.

Now, granted I’m not translating literature here… the Portuguese is very basic. But having said that, it is very functional, i.e. messaging with a Brazilian girl. 🙂

The basic idea here is that there is simply no reason to be scared of Portuguese, especially if you know Spanish ahead of time, and work with a good tool like Pimsleur in the early stages.

The Portuguese I Read

So here we go…

I am going to break this down by color…

  • Blue Items: stuff you could very likely catch if you knew Spanish
  • Orange Items: stuff you could understand from just a little Pimsleur
  • Green Items: stuff I picked up along the way during my first week in Brazil
  • Proper names aren’t colored

Ready for this? Here are the messages I read and understood in Portuguese:

1. Olá Ryan, vi meu facebook só hoje! eu e a Cristina fomos em um bar na sexta feira, e vocês o que fizeram? eu não sei explicar para você onde está o “til” porque seu computador deve ser diferente do meu, mas não tem problema porque eu entendo! eu estou precisando de ajuda para escrever inglês, tenho alguns exercícios para entregar amanhã! rsrsrs até mais, bjos

2. Oi Ryan, que bom que você descobriu o til, parabéns! Eu faço aulas de inglês na universidade, se você quiser eu posso pegar algumas informações sobre as aulas de português para você ?!?!


1. Hello Ryan, I only saw my Facebook today! Cristina and I were in a bar on Friday, and what did you all do? I don’t know how to explain for you where is the “tilde” because your computer must be different than mine, but you don’t have a problem because I understand! I am needing help to write English, I have some exercises to turn in tomorrow! hahaha see you later, kisses

2. Hey Ryan, great, you discovered the tilde, congratulations! I take English classes at University, if you want, I can get some information about Portuguese classes for you!?

How I Was Able To Understand This Portuguese

I was able to understand what she wrote primarily because of 2 things.

1. Knowledge of Spanish

Some might call this “cheating” or “obvious”, but the fact is that knowledge of more than one languages can increase your abilities in other languages. Spanish and Portuguese have many similar words and very similar sentence structure. In fact, if you know Spanish well, you could get very close to the meaning of these messages.

I mean, note how many blue words there were. All of those you should be able to get if you know Spanish, if even at an intermediate level.

2. Pimsleur

The Pimsleur program (as I’ve discussed before) is a really good program to get you through the early beginner stages. It teaches you proper pronunciation and survival phrases, as well as common phrases you’ll need to use, like “I need to…”, “I want to…” , “I have to… “, and “I’m going to… “. These are simple but effective ways to express yourself in the beginning as you are getting a hold of the language.

And, as you can see, the words in orange fill in the gaps quite nicely because Pimsleur focuses on high frequency phrases.

==> As a side note, speakers of Spanish might get mixed up with the word “mas” because it means “more” in Spanish but “but” in Portuguese. The Portuguese articles “o” (masculine) and “a” (feminine) are different, and they are often combined with “de” (of) to appear as “do” or “da.” If you knew these, you’d practically know the entire passages.

See, it’s not so hard

So, my hacking portuguese plan seems to be doing well in the early-going. Unfortunately, I am very lazy and since the first week have not put in much time into my studies.

So, don’t be lazy like me, but listen to what I do when I do it because I think it’s working. 🙂

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Published July 5, 2012

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  • I think you and I are the only people in the entire language-learning community who like Pimsleur, everyone else I’ve heard talk about it seems to think it’s shit, haha.

    I love how well it works at getting you to be able to pronounce just about anything in the language correctly inside of a few weeks, that’s personally where I think it really shines and is what makes it really valuable in my opinion.  You do also learn a lot of common, useful vocabulary and a good bit of grammar as well (though I will admit that the grammar you learn is very random and sort of haphazard, there’s no real order to it).

    Oh, just curious, about how well would you say most people there know English? Do you think 20% of them could be classed as “conversational” or what?


    • Andrew,

      Thanks for the comment. You know, I actually thought of you when I published this post, because I thought it might be relevant to you, especially if you go for Portuguese.

      I’d say the % of people that are conversational in English varies. There are more that speak it in southern Brazil (where I am) than the north / northeast. As a generalized across the cities I’ve been in the south I’d say maybe 10% would be conversational, with higher percentages in the centers of the bigger cities like Sao Paulo and Rio.

      •  Yup, I’d love to hit Portuguese but it’s an issue of time, though I am considering taking on a new language soon in a non-serious part-time sort of way, so I might look at Portuguese for that.

        Hmm, 10% ain’t great, to put it mildly, so I’d say it sounds to me like Brazil is like the rest of Latin America: you better speak the local language because almost no one there speaks English.

        Ok, thanks.


        • Yes, one thing I am dealing with at present is the fact that I don’t think I am getting to know the Brazilians themselves very well because I don’t have the Portuguese. Sure I know some who speak English, but I can’t tell myself I know Brazil unless I get the language… but I suppose that’s to be expected for any foreign country / culture.

          • Did you get to learn enough Portuguese to truly meet the Brazilian people?

          • Yes! I met several. I definitely plan on returning at some point.

  • Josh

    As soon as I got to Brazil my spoken Spanish ability declined significantly because I didn’t make an effort to practice with anyone. After two months of being back in the US, my spontaneous Portuguese ability has declined since I haven’t been practicing with anyone.

    I assume something similar happened to you while you were in Brazil. How long do you feel it took you to get back to your old rhythm with Spanish after going to Brazil?

    • Good question, Josh… I’d say I picked it back up within a week of being in an immersion environment. I wish I would have reviewed some materials to get back some vocab, but the flow of commonly used words came back pretty quick.

  • Best of luck on your travels! Are you wrtng a book?

    • Well, it’s in my head… just gotta get it out on paper! 😀

  • I enjoy reading about your travels!

    • Thanks Veronica! 😀

  • you need your own show on the travel channel 🙂 awesome stuff

    • Don’t make me blush! 😉